“Can we talk about the Bears now?” the Green Bay Packers’ under-the-weather coach said on Monday.
And for good reason.
If the season were to end today, the Packers would be hitting the driving range rather than heading to the practice field. Green Bay and Seattle are 5-3 and tied for sixth place in the NFC. With the Seahawks’ Week 1 victory over the Packers, they are in possession of the No. 6 seed. Moreover, the 49ers (4-4) are lingering and figure to get a major influx of talent with the return of defensive stars Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman. Only one week remains in Smith’s nine-game suspension and Bowman reportedly is making quick progress as he returns from a serious knee injury.
Thus, the Packers have little margin for error with the rival Bears coming to town. That’s why McCarthy’s focus is on Sunday night rather than looking at the possibilities for the next handful of seasons.
“I think every time you’re given an opportunity to lead a team, you max it out, and that’s the way I’ve always gone about it,” McCarthy said. “Hey, the good Lord only knows how much longer you’re going to be doing anything. I’m the head coach of the 2014 Green Bay Packers. I’m trying to max out this opportunity. That’s the reality of my approach.”
McCarthy has had a winning approach following the annual byes. The Packers are 7-1, which ties Andy Reid (14-2) for the second-best winning percentage in NFL history (minimum eight games). With a win over the Bears, McCarthy would tie Marv Levy, who went 8-1 (.889) while guiding the Chiefs and Bills.
On paper, the second half of the season should get the Packers into the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season. Leading off with Chicago (3-5), the Packers play four of their next five at home. After the Bears, the Packers host Philadelphia (6-2), which is in first place in the NFC East but will be without rising young quarterback Nick Foles (broken collarbone). Mark Sanchez will have to keep the Eagles in the hunt. Then it’s a trip to Minnesota (4-5), which has managed to stay afloat without Adrian Peterson. Then it’s back home for New England (7-2), which has won five in a row after destroying Denver on Sunday, and Atlanta (1-7), which has lost five in a row.
“As we talked in the past, we break the season down into quarters,” McCarthy said. “So, our next three out of four are at home, so that’s great. And you have to take care of your business at home. That’s the formula that’s always worked in the NFL. We’re excited to be back on ‘Sunday Night Football’ here at home, and this is always a big game when we get together with the Bears. So, this will be a great opportunity.”
The final three games are at Buffalo (5-3) and Tampa Bay (1-7) before what could be a winner-takes-all game against NFC North-leading Detroit (6-2) at Lambeau in the finale.
“We’re definitely making progress and the exciting part is we have a lot of growth in front of us, too,” McCarthy said.
That Green Bay is in position for a fourth consecutive division title is remarkable in a league that punishes successful teams as a way to level the playing field. What’s more remarkable is McCarthy’s act hasn’t worn thin. McCarthy was one of 10 new coaches entering the 2006 season. Only Sean Payton (Saints) remains on the job. The Lions and Vikings also hired new coaches in 2006; both teams are on their third coach since then.
Of course, it helps that McCarthy has Aaron Rodgers, a stable front office and an organization dedicated to giving the football side of the operation everything it needs to succeed.
“I think you have to always look at yourself first,” McCarthy said. “You keep trying to find ways to improve your program and your football team. I think if you look at the way we just operate today compared to last year, it’s evidence of Ted (Thompson) and myself listening to coaches, listening to trainers, our strength and conditioning staff, their insight on how to get better. Try to improve and make the culture in the locker room better each year. We’ve had a new facility almost every year since I’ve been here. We’re on our fourth cafeteria and second weight room. We’re finding different ways to keep improving. We’re improving our program, and I think that’s all part of it.”
|Team||Div||Record||Head to Head||Div Seed||Conf Record||Strength of Victory (Wins)||Strength of Schedule (Wins)|
|10||New York Giants||East||3-4-0||3||2-4-0||.346(9)||.576(34)|